The notion of the subaltern (the economically and politically marginalized) has been coined by the Italian Marxist thinker, Antonio Gramsci in the late 1920s. Inspired by the historian Ranajit Guha (b.1923) the Subaltern Studies group since 1982 embarked on a project of ‘recovering’ the agency of subalterns in anti-colonial resistance movements in India. While this project began as a specific and focused intervention in the academic discipline of (Indian) history, it has now a global presence as a field of studies practiced by scholars of diverse disciplinary backgrounds that goes well beyond India or South Asia. Today subaltern studies are often seen as a close relative of postcolonialism, an area of studies whose principal home has been in literature departments; one that is particularly concerned with the (neo)colonial power dynamics of representational subalternization and the ongoing (cultural) resistance against it.
This class sets focus on the relationship between postcolonial writing and subaltern historiography. Introducing seminal theoreticians and key concepts (thus tracing origin, development, and emancipatory potential of subaltern criticism) it selectively explores fictional re-visions and creative re-makings of hegemonic historical narratives in postcolonial literature and conceptual art.
The reading list will include selections from Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks (1929-35), key essays from diverse Subaltern Studies volumes (1982-), reflections and commentaries on the project by postcolonial critics like Dipesh Chakrabarty, Gayatri Spivak, or Edward Said as well as selected literary writings and artistic works ranging from Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958) and Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981) to Walid Raad’s Hostage: The Bachar Tapes (2001) and Emily Jacir’s Material for a Film (2005-ongoing).